A curious case of the creeps

I generally don’t think about insects very much at all. I moan about mosquitos. I hate flies. I love butterflies and moths. Bees are my favourite. They rock. Paper mites give me the creeps. That’s about the extent of it.

Do you think about insects ? Are you curious about them?

I few months ago, I decided to cocoon my insect-related ignorance and apathy (defined "I don't know and I don't care") and to transform it through curiosity into wonder and delight. The impact was a fresh and hopeful perspective, newfound interest, and the widening of my world.

Do these outcomes  sound attractive to you?

Then read on, and by all means, please try this at home!


Before we get into my insect story, I want to make sure you're not thinking curiosity is just for astrophysicists or kids with lots of time on their hands. Here are three things you should know: 

1. Curiosity is a clear sign of intelligence

In 2011* a study was published in Perspectives in Psychological Science showing that curiosity is a major part of academic performance. The findings indicated that a curious mindset was as important as IQ level in determining how well students do in school. The authors conclude:  "Our results highlight that a 'hungry mind' is a core determinant of individual differences in academic achievement."
“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination. I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” Albert Einstein

2. Curiosity keeps you from boredom

Everything is interesting to the truly curious mind. Boredom gets you feeling trapped in an experience. There's a sense of restlessness, a lack of challenge, a lack of purpose. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, authour of 'Flow', boredom is the opposite of the 'flow state', when we are operating at fully engaging our brain.

Those who are bored by nature become boring to themselves and others. We can inadvertently slip into this state if we stop asking questions and don't pause from our incessant busyness from time to time to think about the world around us.

 “A curious mind is never bored.” - Min Kim


3.  Curiosity can be nurtured like a plant

Who doesn't want to be smart and switched on? Being dull and uninterested just isn't that appealing. 

Happily, if you are feeling dull or depleted, or restlessness and lack of purpose is familiar to you- fear not! You can break free from by making a deliberate mind shift towards curiosity. Curiosity is the antidote to apathy and will make feel younger in the process. Start with just one thing to get curious about. I started with insects.  


How things got creepy for me 

Perhaps the very mention of insects is giving you the creeps. But humour me for a moment and consider how many types of insects you can name.

Go on, try it. 

In case you are about to add spiders to your list, note that spiders are not insects. Spiders have 8 legs while insects have six (just saying!).

My fascination started with a trip to a beautiful game reserve near the Kruger National Park, with Celia and our families. We strayed in a remote getaway, set up on a cliff overlooking the Olifants river. It’s one of those places where you can literally feel the quiet settle on you like a blanket and the electromagnetic buzz from the city evaporate off your nerves.

Celia’s husband, Dayne, is a bush ‘fundi.’ He not only knows all the birds from their calls alone, but can track animals from their spoor, navigate from the stars and identify most of the trees and the shrubs.

One afternoon, he came over to Celia and I whilst we were drinking tea on the porch and plonked a fat book on the table between us. “Take a look at this,” he said. A Field Guide to Insects. “Ag no,” I groaned. “I’m just getting the hang of the birds and now you’re onto insects! What for?” “Just read,” he urged. “You’ll be amazed.”

  So, we got stuck in. Only a few pages in and my mind was blown. I had no idea there were so many types of insects. My eyes were opened to this incredible world beneath my nose. Suddenly, instead of flicking all the bugs out of the shower with a towel and much irritation, I was pausing to examine the plethora of detailed and incredible creatures, truly looking at them for the first time.


Did you know these amazing facts about insects?


There are more species of insects are more than any other group of organisms


There are nearly as many species of ants (8,800) as there are species of birds (11,000)* in the world.


Around 900,000 different kinds of insects have been recorded. Most authorities agree that there are more insect species that have not been name by science than there are that have been named. Conservative estimates are at 2 million species. Some estimates go up to 30 million species. (PBGHEW! That’s the sound of my mind exploding.)


Insects possibly have the largest biomass of all the terrestrial animals. At any given time, it is estimated that there are some 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) individual insects alive.

*The World Animal Foundation collects the latest statistics on animal data. You can find more here.

How are you doing with naming those types of insects?

Here are the categories from Dayne’s book:

(I love how 'bugs' is an actual category. I thought that was a general name like 'creepy crawlies.' LOL)

That holiday I spent a lot of time perusing the pages of that incredible book. I was amazed at the diversity; the variety of shapes and colours, the different designs, the crazy functionality. If I hadn’t seen some of them with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe that they existed.

The beauty and variety of inspects inspired and delighted me. They also got my curiosity going, not only about the natural world, but about other things in my environment that I overlook.


How curious are you?

Curiosity is one of the foundational mindsets of creativity.  How curious are you? Do you relate to any of these statements?

  • You strongly desire to know things.
  • When you ask people questions, you truly listen to their answers and want to understand what they say.
  • You ask lots of questions in your mind about the world around you.
  • You seek surprise.
  • You are not afraid to say: “I don’t know.”
  • You live to solve problems.
  • Virtually nothing bores you; you can always find something interesting to explore about a topic or a situation.
  • You question everything.
  • Questions don’t scare you.

How to be more curious

Here are a few ways to nurture and grow your curiosity:

  • Take a pause to think: what can I get more curious about? Note down everything that comes to mind and get deliberate about exploring those subjects. 
  • Read more widely.
  • Delve into things that spark interest and joy for you.
  • Sharpen your mind on the minds of others.
  • Be humble enough to ask questions.
  • Don't only rely on Google, think things through for yourself.
  • Browse a real bookstore (more exploring less jumping to one sought-after answer.)

At work: 

Why not take your curiosity into your workplace to boost your creativity, productivity and engagement at work.  If you work with a team, what might you do to encourage curiosity and creativity?  Spend some time discussing this with your team. For example, a  great practice is to set a regular slot aside for a team member to share an interesting insight or innovation.  They might share their learning about an area of interest. This will open up the team's horizons, spark conversation and ideas, and will help the team to practice curiosity together. 


If you would like to chat to us about strategies to develop a more creative and curious mindset for yourself or your team, contact us on: [email protected]

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The Hungry Mind: Intellectual Curiosity Is the Third Pillar of Academic Performance, (2011) Sophie von Stumm , Benedikt Hell , and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, University of Edinburgh, University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland, Goldsmiths University of London.



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